Since we launched our campaign, we've been talking a lot about what a dark place captivity is for whales and dolphins. But no matter how many social media posts you 'like', or even how many scientific papers you read, nothing brings it home more than witnessing the impact captivity has had on the mental health of real whales and dolphins.
In last week's blog we shared a short video about Kiska, an orca filmed bashing herself against the side of her tank and hanging motionless in the corner of it. How can anyone watch that and advocate for captivity being a necessary or positive thing? Sadly, Kiska's story is just one of around 3,600 stories of whales and dolphins living impoverished lives, confined in a tank, and denied what it truly means to be a whale or a dolphin.
Help us make this generation of captive whales the last
You really don't have to look far to find examples that show the true horror of captivity. We must make this generation of captive whales and dolphins the last, and we need to tell their stories to uncover the dark side of captivity. Watching an orca show, or getting a selfie with a 'smiling' dolphin in a swim-with-the-dolphins experience might be a bucket list experience ticked off for some, but for the orca and the dolphin, it's much darker.
Use the arrows to scroll through and meet some of the real whales and dolphins in captivity:
Meet Kiska (orca)
This disturbing video of Kiska violently thrashing herself against the side of her tank shows the devastating impact that captivity can have on an orca’s mental health. Kiska has been confined for more than 40 years. She was stolen from her family in the waters around Iceland in 1979 when she was just three. Since 2011 she has been alone. She is deprived of every aspect of the rich life and strong social bonds she would enjoy in the wild. All five of her children have died which will be devastating for her, as orcas feel deep emotions. When not swimming in slow circles, she often floats in one spot, staring at her bleak, barren world.
See the world through Kiska’s eyes and help us uncover the #DarkSideOfCaptivity.
Meet Morgan (orca)
In this video, you can see Morgan, confined in the small medical pool while the orca show goes on in the stadium in front of her. The music a disturbing contrast to the trauma she is displaying as she chews the bars of the gate and cries out in frustration. She has been here at Loro Parque in Tenerife since 2011 after she was found alone and emaciated in 2010. The plan had been to nurse her then release her, but she was never freed. She was made pregnant and tragically her baby, Ula, died suddenly a few weeks before her third birthday in August 2021. Morgan’s world should be vast and dominated by family, but her reality is a small and disturbing place.
See the world through Morgan’s eyes and help us uncover the #DarkSideOfCaptivity.
Meet Qila (beluga)
Qila was the first beluga ever to be born in captivity. She died at Vancouver Aquarium aged just 21 and her mother Aurora died nine days later. Qila was known for her unnatural, repetitive behaviour. She would swim one length of her pool upright and then another length upside down, pausing for a breath in the same spot, and she’d repeat this pattern over and over again. This ritualistic behaviour is a massive mental health red flag. Qila never enjoyed a natural ocean home and her confinement caused psychological damage which manifested in these repetitive swimming patterns. Intelligent beings like Qila need to be free to travel, play, hunt and socialise. A concrete tank can never meet these needs and so their mental health disintegrates.
See the world through Qila’s eyes and help us uncover the #DarkSideOfCaptivity.
Meet Shadow and Chelmers (bottlenose dolphins)
Shadow and Chelmers died from brain damage after a two-day rave took place at Connyland, Switzerland, the facility they were held at. A toxicology report found a heroin substitute in their urine. A keeper told local media that Chelmers was drifting under the water and foaming at the mouth for over an hour before he died. It’s believed that the narcotics may have suppressed their instinct to come to the surface to breathe. A court found the cause of death to have been too high a dosage or too long an administration of antibiotics used to treat an infection. Activists said they recorded noise levels of 100 decibels during the rave – as loud as a pneumatic drill.
See the world through Shadow’s and Chelmer’s eyes and help us uncover the #DarkSideOfCaptivity.
(the picture shows dolphins at Connyland)
Meet Tilikum (orca)
Tilikum will be remembered as the orca implicated in the deaths of three humans, and as the ‘star’ of the film Blackfish. When humans took him from his ocean home, they condemned him to a life of serious mental health problems. As a young orca, he endured constant attacks from the two females he shared a tank with. But what was more disturbing was what happened when the shows ended. Each night Tilikum was isolated and ‘stored’ in a metal 'box' for up to 14 hours at a time. This contributed to his psychosis and subsequent behavioural problems. After the tragic death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau, Tilikum was kept alone for six years before he died. Orcas are too big, too intelligent and too mobile to ever thrive in a tank and the impact of captivity on their mental health is devastating for them, and in Tilikum’s case, for humans too.
See the world through Tilikum’s eyes and help us uncover the #DarkSideOfCaptivity.
Meet Ikaika (orca)
Ikaika was born in captivity in 2002. He has never known the ocean or a closely-bonded community to guide and teach him. He was separated from his mother, sister and brother when he was four and now has serious mental health issues which manifest mostly in sexual aggression but also in biting other whales and grabbing humans. This behaviour wouldn’t be seen in wild orcas who learn from their elders how to thrive and fulfil their role in their close-knit orca society. A Toronto Star investigation revealed that SeaWorld vets sedated him twice a day with Valium to ‘mellow him out’. How many wild orcas need Valium? His brother Taku also had a tragic life - he made their mother pregnant and died at SeaWorld aged just 14.
See the world through Ikaika’s eyes and help us uncover the #DarkSideOfCaptivity.
Meet Helen (Pacific white-sided dolphin)
Helen was born free in the waters off Japan but she died at SeaWorld in Texas in 2022. She was moved there from Vancouver Aquarium when Canada outlawed whale and dolphin captivity. She was the only one left in Vancouver after her tank mate, a false killer whale named Chester, died. Dolphins are social beings who live in societies in which each individual plays their part, depending on their personality and their culture. They have complex emotional lives too; on a level we may never comprehend. So you can imagine the loneliness, boredom and depression that a dolphin like Helen would suffer – alone in a barren tank, deprived of the companionship of her own kind and of the ability to just be a dolphin.
See the world through Helen’s eyes and help us uncover the #DarkSideOfCaptivity.
Holiday companies fuel this whale and dolphin mental health crisis by promoting these ‘attractions’ to their customers. We’ve been campaigning successfully to persuade all UK tour operators to stop perpetuating the cruelty of captivity.
Our campaign is working. We have already succeeded in persuading Virgin Holidays, British Airways, Thomas Cook, TripAdvisor and Booking.com to stop selling tickets to captive whale and dolphin attractions and Expedia followed last year.
TUI is the largest travel company in the world and we know that they are reviewing their policies around captive whales and dolphins. They can play an important role in making this generation of captive whales and dolphins the last. Please encourage TUI to do the right thing and pledge only to work with attractions that commit to WDC’s ethical phase-out model of no performances, no breeding, no more captures, no trade and enhanced welfare conditions for those remaining in tanks.
Please share our campaign and help us to reach more people who'd like to sign our letter to TUI. Thank you for helping us uncover the #DarkSideOfCaptivity.
Please sign our letter to TUI
As the world's largest tour operator, TUI can help make this generation of captive whales and dolphins the last.